Among the newly minted Scripps Class of 2014 is a particular cohort of 21 adventurers who, as students, blazed new and challenging trails for themselves and their family members — current and future generations.
This adventuresome group of graduates represents the first members of their families to attend college, known as “first-generation students.”
While they are not the firstever “first-gens” to attend Scripps College, these 21 are the beneficiaries of a program specifically tailored to support them in their particular circumstances and help them manage the college process.
“Making a Scripps College education accessible to all talented and deserving students is about more than just offering scholarships and financial aid,” says President Lori Bettison-Varga. “Providing the tailored support for first-gen students to be successful in navigating their college experience is an essential added element, and Scripps is making this happen effectively through a collaborative campus effort.”
Research shows that without a strong support system, these smart, promising young scholars can become overwhelmed in often-hidden ways that differ from students whose parents or other close relatives can guide them based on their own college experiences. An alumna and first-gen student considered her personal perspective as she provided the impetus to the College’s new program, First-Generation@Scripps.
“I didn’t instinctively know how to ask for help,” says program initiator Melissa Mesinas ’12. “I noticed other students facing similar issues who also weren’t sure how to address them.”
Similarly, many first-gen students characterize their circumstances as simply not knowing what to expect, because of little or no first-hand exposure to college life.
First-generation students can be much less aware of campus resources designed to help the student body, according to Sonia De La Torre- Iniguez, assistant dean of students, who also serves as program coordinator. “That has changed since the program has imbued many with the confidence to succeed.”
Following a vision expressed by Mesinas, Shane Zackery and Maria Ceja Rodriguez, both members of the cohort, served as the program’s first student interns. They organized workshops, provided peer support, and implemented programs to address the unique needs of students who are the first in their family to attend college. Among those needs, for example, is an enhanced understanding of personal finances, roommate communication skills, ways to self-identify talents, and understanding the value of internships. The program also published a monthly newsletter to help raise awareness about the first-gen experience, and Zackery and Rodriguez were among contributors who shared their journeys.
Looking back, Zackery says she benefitted not only from what she learned as a first-gen student but also how her participation as a program coordinator enhanced her overall Scripps experience.
“I have enjoyed coming to understand what it means for students to selflessly support other students,” says Zackery, a media economics major from Orlando, Florida. “We give back because we genuinely want first-gen students to be successful and feel supported from the moment they step on campus.”
“Being the first in my family to attend college, I could not predict what to expect,” says Rodriguez, a biochemistry major from Sacramento. Like Zackery, she also found value in “empowering and inspiring” her peers.
Though many would say they are proud just to be graduating as a member of the Class of 2014, the group rightfully displayed their additional pride as first-gen students by wearing originally designed stoles.
“Stoles carry special meaning at any commencement,” says De La Torre-Iniguez. “They distinguish and recognize a group of students who have achieved something special. For our first-gen students, their stoles carry added meaning for themselves and our Scripps community.”
For the College, the white and green stoles “symbolize a commitment to recognizing the voices and unique experiences of our first-gen students,” she adds. “For our students, the stole is an embodiment of their success. Long after graduation, it will continue to serve as a concrete reminder of what they accomplished for themselves and their communities.”
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